Phils' need for a bat is dj vu for former GM Gillick

Phils' need for a bat is dj vu for former GM Gillick
July 17, 2011, 3:24 pm
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NEW YORK -- Retired and enjoying retirement in the Pacific northwest, former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick doesn't show up at the ballpark too much these days. But that doesn't mean he is too far away from the action.

In his role as a special adviser to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., Gillick says he talks to his protege a couple of times per week. Moreover, like a lot of Phillies' fans and pundits, the soon-to-be inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame believes the team needs a right-handed bat.

Gillick wouldn't be surprised if Charlie Manuel is in the GM's ear asking for a hitter.

"The year we won 116 games in Seattle, everyday manager Lou Pinella would tell me we needed another hitter, and I'm the same way," Gillick said during a conference call ahead of his induction to the Hall of Fame next Sunday. "Atlanta's got three guys in their bullpen that can shut down your lefthanders."

Gillick knows that Amaro is a "pitching first guy," which could be a glimpse into the Phillies' thinking as the July trade deadline looms.

Still, it's a bit reassuring that (arguably) the best modern general manager in the history of the game is counseling Amaro. After all, if there is one guy who has been in the middle of things during the trade deadline it is Gillick. And though he might not be pulling the strings anymore, he still has some input.

Gillick is the guy, who in his first year as GM of the Phillies, sent the team's top hitter Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees for marginal prospects. It was a controversial move at the time because the Phillies did not get back talent to match Abreu. However, Gillick knew Abreu had to go in order to allow other players to emerge. In the press conference to announce Abreu's trade, Gillick said the Phillies were "two years away."

Two years later the team won the World Series.

"He wasn't a high-energy guy," Gillick said. "Abreu is still playing, but we thought that by trading him, guys like Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins might play with more energy and that was the case."

The Abreu trade was not the biggest deal Gillick pulled off with the Phillies, but it probably was the one that marked his tenure with the club by looking into the future. The same goes for his very first deal upon joining the Phillies when he dealt Jim Thome and cash to the White Sox for Aaron Rowand and pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez.

With Thome gone, Ryan Howard won the NL MVP Award in his first full season as the team's first baseman.

Gillick was the master of making the little deals that fly beneath the radar only to become significant as the season progresses.

With the Phillies, Gillick picked up Matt Stairs after the trade deadline in 2008 as that bat off the bench. When Utley broke his hand late in the 2007 season, Gillick wrangled veteran second baseman Tadahito Iguchi from the White Sox and saw him bat .304 in 45 regular-season games. He also picked up Greg Dobbs before the 2007 season as a third basemanpinch-hitter and picked up Jayson Werth from waivers from Dodgers when many thought the outfielder's career was over.

Werth became one of the more popular Phillies' players in recent memory.

Gillick had a close relationship with Werth dating back to the GM's days running the Orioles when the team took the high school catcher out of Springfield, Ill. in the first round. Gillick was working his way up as director of scouting for the Yankees when the team drafted Dennis Werth, Jayson's father.

Yet despite his history with the Werth family, Gillick was "shocked and stunned" that the Nationals signed Jayson to a seven-year, 126 million deal.

"I'm happy for Jayson, but it wouldn't have been something I'd recommend," Gillick said.

Gillick didn't often give long-term deals to players and rarely offered them to pitchers. That hasn't been the case for his successor Amaro, who has inked Roy Halladay to a 60 million deal and Cliff Lee to a five-year contract. The pitching-happy GM might shell out the years and cash for Cole Hamels in the not-so distant future.

Regardless, in a career that has spanned GM gigs in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, Gillick's best moves likely came when building the Blue Jays.

Taking over an expansion team in 1976, Gillick helped guide the Jays to five AL East crowns and back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. During those runs he made deals to get Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key and Jack Morris and made a trade that sent Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

As fate would have it, Gillick will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Alomar next Sunday.

Still, Gillick says the deal that set up the Jays' back-to-back titles came at the deadline in 1992 when he traded away a prospect named Jeff Kent for a veteran right-hander named David Cone.

"One of the guys we gave up probably is a marginal Hall of Famer, Jeff Kent," Gillick said. "We thought about it and said, 'David Cone is a guy we think can put us over the hump,' and at the same time a deal like that kind of deflates your competition."

Interestingly, Amaro has inherited a penchant for those types of deals from his predecessor and we'll see what he has up his sleeve over the next couple of week.
John Finger will have more from Gillick's call later this week and from the Hall of Fame festivities in Cooperstown, N.Y. over the weekend.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

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